CIESIELSKI: Partnering with parishes for end-of-life planning

February 26, 2019

As a 10 year old, I had a shirt that I really liked wearing. One day, when I could not find the shirt, my mother informed me that she had “cleaned out the closets” and gave away the clothing. Today, as a parent myself, I can appreciate the need to declutter, but at the time I was upset that I had “lost” the shirt and any decision-making power to discard it. It can be tough parting with sentimental, personal treasures without having some say about the decision.

End-of-life pastoral care can be something like this experience. As people age, they can become attached to things that are personally meaningful to them: Living in their own home, driving a car, eating certain foods, socializing with their family, friends and church community, sending their money however they choose.

It can feel unsettling when others start telling them that for their own good or personal safety, they no longer can do these activities. Addressing these concerns requires a respectful dialogue with a sensitivity to maintaining personal autonomy and an understanding of loss.

The Office of Aging Ministry has been charged with providing additional information and outreach to “Boomers” with a focus on caregiving support and end-of-life planning. With that lens as our focus, the Office of Aging Ministry partners with parishes to provide end-of-life education and resources. One of these efforts began by first listening to end-of-life concerns from seniors.

This developed into an end-of-life planning seminar that was hosted by St. Helen’s senior club, Super Seniors, in Pearland. It was attended by 125 older adults representing 11 neighboring parishes. This same group has requested follow-up education for funeral planning and the Rite of Christian Burial. The Office will consult with the seniors to plan this additional formation.

Deacons seem to be those pastoral ministers commonly assigned to the care of the sick, aging and dying. In that light, Deacon John Charnisky from Sts. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands consulted with the Office of Aging in planning their parish’s four-part series on “Preparing and Planning for Elder Care.” The seminars aimed at helping family members start family conversations regarding end-of-life care, prepare advanced directives for medical and financial decision making, highlight/remember one’s life and legacy, and pre-plan for funerals.

Working in collaboration with the Office of the Permanent Diaconate, Deacon Phil Jackson, director, encouraged deacons and deacon candidates to attend a recent parish leader formation for end-of-life care. The seminar was co-sponsored by the Office of Aging and Catholic Charities Parish Social Ministry. It was hosted by St. Cecilia Catholic Church with the support of their parish’s Deacon Frank Davis.

Deacon-candidate Jose Macias, representing St. Juan Diego Catholic Church, noted that two of the most challenging end-of-life issues that he has encountered with the Hispanic community are that many people don’t like to talk about the subject and the need for (Catholic) resources in Spanish. As he works in this ministry at his parish, he indicated that he has been able to pass on information about life insurance and funeral services to them. He said that he finds it personally rewarding to “help families be prepared for that moment that is imminent and help them because most are immigrants without family in this country.”

“End-of-life” planning not only entails planning for the temporal and spiritual needs at the very end of life but includes assisting families to support older adults living comfortably in their home environment. The Office of Aging recently met with representatives from six parishes within the Southwest Senior Senate to gather their input for planning an “Aging in Place” event. These seniors identified critical needs to help support their living comfortably at home. Their priorities serve as the springboard for developing an upcoming educational and community resource event which will be aimed at older adults from parishes in the Southwest region of the Archdiocese.

The wisdom and gifts of the Church’s older members continue to provide stability and care for the rest of the Body of Christ. When parish communities recognize the presence of older adults as gifts and actively support their aging process, the entire Christian community benefits. The Office of Aging continues to support parishes in their efforts to care for older adults so that they can make decisions which respect their dignity and autonomy.

Mark Ciesielski is an associate director in the Archdiocesan Office of Aging.